NEW YORK—Following a sale where boldly colored works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Alexej von Jawlensky and Rene Magritte drew the top prices, David Norman, Sotheby’s cochairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, said “what did particularly well were works with great visual presence and vibrant color.” Of 59 lots offered, 44, or 75 percent, were sold. By value, the sale was 85 percent sold.
The highest price was the under-estimate $21.4 million paid for Picasso’s 1934 portrait of his mistress Marie Therese and her sister reading, (estimate: $25 million/35 million). An unidentified Asian man seated in the room purchased the painting. Several lots later, he also purchased Camille Pissarro’s L’Hermitage en été, Pontoise, 1877, for $4.3 million (estimate: $4 million/6 million).
The second-highest price was Jawlensky’s boldly colored portrait Frau Mit Grünem Fächer (Woman with a Green Fan), 1912, which was estimated at $8 million/12 million and sold to a phone bidder for $11.3 million.
Picasso paintings from the collection of Dodie Rosenkrans also sparked competitive bidding though, in one case, at a level well below the auctioneer’s presale estimate. The work titled, Couple à la guitare, 1970, was estimated at $10 million/15 million but bidding was opened at $6 million and three bidders went for it before the piece was hammered down to a phone bidder at $8.5 million ($9.6 million with premium).
On the other hand, four bidders pursued Femme, 1930, which was estimated at $3 million/5 million but sold well above that for $7.9 million. Fillette aux nattes et au chapeau vert, 1956, sold for $5.9 million to a phone bidder (estimate: $3.5 million/5 million).
A surprise to many observers at the sale was the strong price fetched for a Paul Gauguin wooden bust—albeit a unique sculpture—of a Tahitian woman wearing a red coral and shell necklace, Jeune Tahitienne, ca. 1893, which carried a lofty $10 million/15 million estimate and sold right at the low estimate for $10 million, or $11.3 million with premium, to a phone bidder. The previous high for a Gauguin sculpture was $1.48 million.
Also noteworthy was the intense competition for Belgian Surrealist artist Paul Delvaux’s 1946 painting of two nudes, Les Cariatides. Four bidders chased the work before it eventually sold to Gagosian gallery director Victoria Gelfand, against bidding from a phone buyer through Sotheby’s London-based specialist Alina Davey who frequently bids for Russian clients. Gelfand, who was also on a cell phone, won the work for a hammer bid of $8 million, or $9 million with premium, against a presale estimate of $3 million/5 million and setting an auction record for the artist. The previous auction high of £3.2 million ($5.2 million) for Delvaux was achieved more than a decade ago, at a Christie’s London auction in 1999, for the oil painting La ville inquiète, 1940-1.
Earlier in the evening however, Davey successfully outbid Larry Gagosian himself, seated in the room on a cell phone, on the Giacometti bronze Femme debout, conceived in 1956 and cast in 1957, for a $6.5 million hammer price (estimate: $2 million/3 million).
Guy Bennett, former head of Christie’s Impressionist and modern department and now a private dealer, acquired Auguste Rodin’s bronze Le Penseur, conceived ca. 1880-1 and cast between 1915-17, for $4 million (estimate: $1.5 million/2 million).